Words can hurt in more ways than one. The tongue can be a lethal weapon of mass destruction, inflicting damage on others, on relationships, and on the soul of the one who uses them in a harmful manner.
In theory, it would seem easy to control our tongue. It’s small and even can be kept locked up simply by shutting our mouths. Yet, for something that weighs so little, it so often weighs us down in sin and destruction.
Fr. Gary Benz, Pastor, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary in Stanley pointed out that it is often the misuse of speech that destroys relationships, particularly the marriage relationship.
“In our time, a staple of advice given to married couples is the need to communicate,” he said. “You have to talk to each other; you have to communicate daily.” However, he noted that often, the problem is not so much a lack of communication, but too much negative communication.
“Married couples, I find, do talk to each other, but they are saying the wrong things,” he said. “They put one another down; they constantly point out one another’s faults; they make selfish demands; they tell their spouse to be quiet; or they bombard their spouse with words of anger or disdain. Yes, technically, these are forms of communication, but they do little good within married life.”
According to Fr. Benz, communication in marriage should be rooted in love. “Saint Paul reminds Christians, including married couples, in his First Letter to the Corinthians that love is kind; it is not arrogant; it is not rude; it is not irritable; it is not resentful; etc.” He said that true communication in marriage is to communicate like Christ, who is love.
“Jesus’ words to us are always kind, loving, merciful, good, and gentle,” Fr. Benz said. “Couples must imitate this Christ-like way of communication. In doing so, they will have great peace and love within marriage and some day when their spouse passes from this life, they will live with no regrets.”
Another way he said that we let our tongue cause damage is when we have a responsibility to use it and do not. “The mouth can be dangerous when it says nothing,” he said. “When we refrain from fraternal correction and allow people to engage in grave sins which destroy the life of grace in the soul and threaten their salvation, we are hurting them by not using our mouth to speak in the name of Jesus Christ, who uses us daily as His instruments of salvation.”
Fr. Joshua Ehli, who has been serving at Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck while on break from studies at the North American College in Vatican City, also noted that words have the power to seriously fracture a marriage.
“Through the exchange of consent using simple words (“I do”) God unites a man and a woman in a sacramental bond so strong that only death can fracture it,” he said. “We know the power of simple words like ‘I love you’ or ‘You are beautiful’ to uplift the soul and fill our hearts with love.” Unfortunately, he explained, spoken words can also be seriously detrimental to the spiritual bonds of love and communion. “It is for this reason that St. Paul declares that, ‘No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.’ (Eph. 4:29).”
Therefore, he said that this is the reason that the Church takes very seriously the sins of detraction and calumny. Both “destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor” (CCC 2479). Detraction harms the bonds of love between people by disclosing “another’s faults and failing to persons who did not now them”, while calumny, “by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others…” (CCC 2477).
“When we engage in gossip, or idle and fruitless talk about others,” Fr. Ehli said, “we very easily move into the realm of either detraction or calumny, or even both. The extent of damage can be so severe that the Church even makes provision for significant canonical sanctions (penalties) to be applied to one who ‘injures the good reputation of another.’” (CIC 1390).
“It is clear how seriously Mother Church considers the spiritual damage that can occur through sins of the spoken word, as well as the written word,” he said. “Through His Church, Jesus asks us to be ever vigilant to the power of the tongue and exhorts us to use it to build up bonds of communion and love, avoiding at all costs, no matter how difficult, the spiritual destruction that comes by way of gossip giving way to detraction and calumny”.
In the Church’s Tradition and in basic human experience, it is evident that spoken words can have tremendous effect in building and maintaining bonds of love, according to Fr. Ehli. “Jesus, Himself– the ‘Logos’ or Word–restores the life of Grace in the sinner through a priest’s words of absolution. He also strengthens and nourishes the life of Grace in the faithful who approach Him is the Great Sacrament of the Altar.”
Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband Mark are the parents of ten children–two AIDS orphans from Kenya. She is a speaker and author of 10 books, was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s “Amazing Grace” series, published around 1,000 articles, appeared on Fox & Friends, EWTN Bookmark program, EWTN LIve, and Catholic TV as well as radio stations across the country. She also won the About.com 2011 Reader’s Choice award.
Patti has a B.A. in social work and an M.A. in public administration. Writing began as a hobby while raising children. After giving her gift of writing back to God, Patti went from writing for gossip tabloids and secular magazines to authoring Catholic books and articles.
For more information and inspiration, check out Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families. Your children will laugh while learning spiritual lessons with Dear God, I Don’t Get It! and Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious.